Rockford — Second-graders in Melissa Young’s classroom at Valley View Elementary School are hushed as they watch a video depicting the aftermath of an art heist at their school.
One student can’t help but exclaim, “That’s my sister’s class!” as the video shows an FBI agent shining his flashlight into a classroom while looking for the stolen object.
Earlier in March, the same students watched a different installment of the video series in which a robber in a black-and-white-striped shirt steals an artwork from the school. The videos tie in with the book students, families, teachers and staff – including janitors and cafeteria workers – read together as part of Valley View’s annual “One Book, One School” program to celebrate National Reading Month.
This year’s book was “Masterpiece,” by Elise Broach, a suspense-ridden novel that tells the story of a boy and his beetle friend Marvin as they try to solve the mystery of how an artwork went missing from an art museum in New York.
Plot Twists and Vocabulary Lessons
The videos, starring Valley View Principal Jeremy Karel in multiple roles, are designed to keep the school engaged in a book that students and staff were largely expected to read at home. According to students in Young’s classroom, the extra reading wasn’t a burden because the mystery keeps them on the edge of their seats.
“The part that I like about it is there are plot twists and stuff, and I also like the art,” said second-grader Caleb Jakubowski while pointing at a favorite illustration in the book.
Young, who was on the committee that picked “Masterpiece” for One School, One Book at Valley View said that the mystery genre has been especially appealing for readers at all levels.
“The reason we chose this book was because there was a little intrigue and a little bit of humor and fantasy, but it also has a beautiful story of friendship,” she said.
The students loved the new vocabulary too, pointing out words like “festooned,” “careening,” and “fumigation,” as some of their favorites from the book about James and Marvin. Since all students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade read the book, Young said there were bound to be words that some of the younger students didn’t know.
For students who couldn’t yet read the inch-thick, 38-chapter book on their own, families were encouraged to read assigned chapters each night together. Some teachers recorded themselves reading the book for students who needed additional support at home.
‘The reason we chose this book was because there was a little intrigue and a little bit of humor and fantasy, but it also has a beautiful story of friendship.’— teacher Melissa Young
Young said that Valley View staff even held evening reading sessions at the clubhouse at Algoma Estates, a nearby manufactured home community.
Creating Their Own Masterpieces
While students and staff were on the edge of their seats waiting to find out who stole the “masterpiece” in the book and in their school, they also created small masterpieces of their own. During art classes, students learned techniques to draw beetles and small portraits akin to the work by Albrecht Dürer referenced in the book. Former Rockford art teacher Kenn Vidro even came to teach drawing techniques like shading and cross-hatching.
Second-grader Allison Sist, who’s not a fan of bugs, wasn’t sure how she felt about drawing beetles as part of One School, One Book, but she warmed up to Marvin.
“I like him because he’s kind of cute,” she said.
As National Reading Month drew to a close, Allison and her classmates were finally able to find out who stole the masterpiece, thanks to the sleuthing work of Marvin and his human friend James.
Spoiler alert: it’s more than a coincidence that Principal Karel stars as both the FBI agent and the art thief in his videos.